Alton’s Bryce Simon exemplified leadership for the Redbirds in what was probably the most difficult season in the program’s history.
Despite numerous odds, Simon led Alton in scoring this year with 27 goals and 11 assists for 38 points, including a four-goal game against Edwardsville that ended in a 4-4 tie.
Simon was also a key figure along with goalie Caleb Currie in getting the Redbirds to the second round of the MVCHA Class 1A playoffs, where they lost to Belleville.
Coming into the 2016-17 season, Alton was facing an uphill battle. The roster was rife with freshmen and sophomores after having graduated 8 seniors the year before.
To make matters worse, team morale was dealt a blow after the death of Zachary Hunter from injuries in an offseason car accident. Hunter was a beloved teammate and one of the best veteran players on Alton’s roster. Hunter led the team in scoring with 27 points in 2015-16.
“A lot of this season I was just playing for Zach,” Simon said. “This whole year we were just playing for him, trying to do our best. I know he was helping us through the season.”
After the first 15 games of the season, the Redbirds were just 2-11-2. Simon recognized the tragedy’s effect on his team and wanted to help make a difference.
“It was definitely hard to come back from that,” Simon said. “We had a lot of team bonding trying to get closer; it was a big hit for the team. He was a really good player, too, so a lot of the time we were just trying to get back on our feet, get focused on the game and just try to move forward from what happened.”
Along with the other two seniors on the team, Tanner St. Peters and Mark Vitali, Simon stepped into the role of leader and helped his team make a turnaround.
“We had a lot more practice and had some big games in there that we really worked well together right before playoffs, so we thought we’d be able to come in and play really well,” Simon said.
The Redbirds went on to win 3 of their last 5 games of the season, thanks in part to the leadership of Simon, who put up 10 points in that span.
The senior captain offered a clutch performance in a series-clinching 7-2 win over the Highland Bulldogs in the opening round of the 1A playoffs, netting 4 goals and adding an assist, to propel the Birds to meet Belleville in the second round.
Although the Redbirds lost to Belleville in the playoffs, dropping the first two games of a best-of-3 series, Simon is able to look back on the season as a success, considering all the odds that Alton faced.
“I knew it was going to be a rebuilding year; we really just wanted to advance our younger players and get them a little better for upcoming seasons. I think we had a good turnout for this year,” the Marquette Catholic High student said.
This season marked the second year in a row the Redbirds and Explorers joined forces to form a MVCHA squad.
Simon plans on playing hockey for SIUE next fall. He began playing in the America’s Showcase in Pittsburgh on Thursday, which continues through Monday. The games are played at the Robert Morris University Sports Center. It’s an opportunity for players to be seen and further their hockey careers in college, prep school, juniors or the professional ranks.
Simon is playing in the showcase for the Missouri squad coached by SIUE head coach Mike Edwards, featuring MVCHA and Mid-States players, including Currie. Jacoby Robinson, Anthony Russo and Joe Watson of Bethalto’s MVCHA squad are also on the team.